By Brendan O’Brien
Jordi Murphy may be switching Dublin for Belfast but Joey Carbery will be limiting his wanderings to his stints between out-half and full-back with Leinster.
Confirmation of Murphy’s decision to join Ulster on a two-year deal as of next summer was confirmed by both provinces yesterday and the back row joins a growing list of players born and bred in the Pale who have looked north to further their career.
Some younger academy players have made their way directly up the M1 while scrum-half John Cooney and prop Marty Moore have now looked to the Kingspan Stadium after stints with Connacht and Wasps respectively.
Eddie O’Sullivan has already suggested that Carbery should think about packing his own bags given the lack of game time the 22-year has availed of at 10 at Leinster where both Jonathan Sexton and Ross Byrne are proving difficult to displace.
“I didn’t think too much of it, to be honest,” Carbery said yesterday. “The opinions that really count are in the environment. (Leinster is) the best environment to be learning in, behind Johnny and Rob (Kearney). I’m learning as much as I can in Leinster as I would anywhere.”
That may be the key.
Murphy is 26 now, a player who will be entering his prime come the next World Cup. Carbery is four years younger and he will have been soothed by the fact that Joe Schmidt last month played down his low volume of minutes at 10 of late.
Schmidt’s take is that he can work with Carbery in the international windows and the player demonstrated again last month with a fine cameo against South Africa and an effective turn against Fiji that he can slot into the cockpit and flourish when required.
The worry is that Carbery falls between the two stools in much the same way Ian Madigan did in Dublin before giving in to frustration and leaving for a new life in Bordeaux and then Bristol.
Carbery, though, is happy to double-job.
“It depends where the team needs me,” he stressed, speaking yesterday in his role as an ambassador for Europcar. “I like to split between the two but if Leinster need me at 15 for the next three or four years I am more than willing to do it.”
A more immediate problem is the injury suffered against the South Sea Islanders.
He knew when it happened that it was serious. It turned out to be three broken bones in his left wrist. Three screws were inserted and the plan now is that he returns “somewhere in the New Year”.
That’s about as definitive as it gets right now. He could face another three weeks off when the cast is removed or it could be eight. Rounds five and six of the Champions Cup look highly unlikely, the first few Six Nations weekends a little iffy.
The main issue is the scaphoid, a bone that doesn’t receive much in the way of blood flow. It’s also pretty important to the way the wrist moves and that has obvious potential repercussions for a fly-half and his passing.
“That’s why we’re kind of unsure,” he explained.
Carbery isn’t blind to the lure of distant horizons.
He lamented the impending loss of Murphy to Leinster yesterday while acknowledging the reality that is the ludicrous competition for places in Leinster’s back row and how it had forced the hand of a man who needs game time to further international ambitions.
As for Carbery, he played 22 times for the province last term and six this season despite absences through injury and international duties and he has featured heavily in most of the big PRO12/14 and European games that matter in that time.
It may be his Kiwi upbringing – he spent his first 11 years in New Zealand — but he sees a clear synergy between 10 and 15 given a full-back can act as first receiver in attack and take his cue from the out-half when the team is aligning in defence.
And a recent chat over coffee with Dan Carter — brokered by Ronan O’Gara — has only reinforced the view that he is perfectly positioned at Leinster.
“He was talking about how to control a team and how nervous and shy he was in his first three or four years playing. He said how good it was to learn from Carlos Spencer and Andrew Mehrtens because he started off playing 12 for the first three or four years.
“He said playing in a different position can be a good thing ‘cause you can learn from others. So that gave me good confidence playing 15 and playing with Johnny and learning how to take responsibility. Probably one of the best 10s ever, to hear that from him is pretty cool.”
This story first appeared in Irish Examiner sport